Are Your SAT Scores Good Enough?

Learn what selective colleges consider good SAT scores for admission

SAT preparation
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What is a good SAT score on the redesigned SAT exam? For the 2017-18 admissions year, the exam consists of two required sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Mathematics. There is also an optional essay section. The scores from each required section can range from 200 to 800, so the best possible total score without the essay is 1600.

There are different ways to calculate what an "average" score is for the SAT.

For the Evidence-Based Reading section, the College Board predicts that if all high school students took the exam, the average score would be a little over 500. For college-bound students who typically take the SAT, that average goes up to about 540. This latter number is probably the more meaningful one since it the average among the students you are competing with on the college admissions front.

For the Math section of the exam, the average score for all high school students is very similar to the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section—a little over 500. For college-bound students who are likely to take the SAT, the average Math score is a little over 530. Here again that latter number is probably the more meaningful one since you would want to compare your score to other college-bound students.

Note that the exam changed significantly in March of 2016, and that the average scores are a little higher now than they had been before 2016.

Averages, however, don't really tell you what kind of score you're going to need for selective colleges and universities. After all, every student who gets into a school like Stanford or Amherst is going to be well above average. The table below can give you a sense of the typical score ranges for students who were admitted to different types of colleges and universities.

Keep in mind that the graph shows the middle 50% of matriculated students. 25% of students got below the lower number, and 25% scored higher than the upper number.

Private Universities — SAT Score Comparison (mid 50%)

Carnegie Mellon University650740710800see graph
Columbia University690780690790see graph
Cornell University650750680780see graph
Duke University670760690790see graph
Emory University620720650770see graph
Harvard University700800700800see graph
Northeastern University660740680770see graph
Stanford University690780700800see graph
University of Pennsylvania680760700790see graph
University of Southern California620730650770see graph

Liberal Arts Colleges — SAT Score Comparison (mid 50%)

Amherst College680773680780see graph
Carleton College660750660770see graph
Grinnell College640740660770see graph
Lafayette College580670620710see graph
Oberlin College640740620710see graph
Pomona College670760690770see graph
Swarthmore College670760670770see graph
Wellesley College640740650750see graph
Whitman College600720600700see graph
Williams College670780660770see graph

Public Universities — SAT Score Comparison (mid 50%)

Clemson University560660590690see graph
University of Florida580670590680see graph
Georgia Tech630730680770see graph
The Ohio State University560670610720see graph
UC Berkeley610740640770see graph
UCLA580710600760see graph
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign570680700790see graph
University of Michigan630730660770see graph
UNC Chapel Hill600710620720see graph
University of Virginia620720630740see graph
University of Wisconsin560660630750see graph
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A Final Word About SAT Scores

SAT scores aren't the most important part of a college application (your academic record is), but aside from colleges that are test-optional, they can play a big role in a school's admissions decision. Mediocre scores aren't going to cut it at the country's most selective colleges and universities. This article provides information and links for figuring what scores you're likely to need for different schools. If the ACT is your better exam, realize that you can almost always use either exam. This ACT version of this article can help guide you.

Nearly all colleges and universities make their SAT data public, and selective schools know that their reputations often depend upon high numbers. A college won’t be considered “highly selective” or “elite” if its students have an average SAT math score of 470, and selectivity is often one of the factors used in national rankings of schools.

Finally, you'll find that some schools report critical reading and math scores, but not the writing scores. This is because the writing part of the exam never fully caught on when it was introduced in 2005, and many schools still do not use it in their admissions decisions. And when the redesigned SAT rolled out in 2016, the writing section became an optional part of the exam. In the near future, we will probably cease to see SAT writing score data for most colleges.

More SAT Comparison Tables

  • The Ivy League: This article compares SAT scores for Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale. 
  • Top Private Universities (non-Ivy): See comparison data for universities such as Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford.
  • Top Liberal Arts Colleges: Here's some SAT comparison data for highly selective liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Grinnell, Pomona, and Williams.
  • Top Public Universities: High selectivity isn't limited to private institutions. Here you'll SAT data for selective public universities such as UCLA, Michigan and UVA.
  • More SAT Score Tables: We have over 100 SAT score comparison tables on ThoughtCo. Follow this link to see scores for different states, athletic conferences, and other types of colleges and universities

More SAT Articles

  • Subject Test Score Information: It's important to realize that average scores in the subject tests tend to be significantly higher than for the regular SAT. This is because a stronger pool of students tends to take subject tests. Learn more for these subjects: Biology | Chemistry | Literature | Math | Physics
  • A to Z College Profiles—Get SAT (and ACT) score information for well over 1,000 colleges and universities.
  • Low SAT Scores? What Now?—Learn strategies for getting into a good college even when your SAT scores aren't ideal.
  • 20 Great Colleges for Not-So-Great Scores—If you have middling SAT scores but are a strong student, you'll still find plenty of excellent college options.
  • Test-Optional Colleges—Hundreds of colleges and universities recognize that a single high-pressure test is a poor measure of an applicant's potential. These colleges and universities don't use SAT scores in the admissions process.